Lockdown: What will casual workers eat?
- The entire world, including some of the most powerful countries — the United States and the United Kingdom — are reeling from the virus.
- Simply put, staying indoors is not an option for these Kenyans, the majority of whom live from hand to mouth.
Talk of a pandemic that has equalised the world! Coronavirus will, for decades to come, be used as a case study of just how easy it would be to either wipe out or incapacitate humanity in just a few months.
The entire world, including some of the most powerful countries — the United States and the United Kingdom — are reeling from the virus.
As I write this, the UK is on full lockdown, its citizens prohibited from meeting family or friends, with those that contravene this directive risking being fined. We’re all quavering in our boots, afraid of what else this highly infectious virus has in store for us and how long it intends to stick around.
Last week, a reader sent me an e-mail requesting me to write something humorous this Sunday — I suspect that like many Kenyans, he is looking for some respite, anything to dilute the sombre mood that has descended on us. Unfortunately, try as I might, I just couldn’t come up with anything even remotely funny, not in light of what is happening here and around the world.
It would seem off, I think, if I recounted a funny incident that happened to me when no one is the mood for laughing. If anything, since the first case of coronavirus was announced in the country a couple of days ago, I, like many Kenyans, no longer have a social life, therefore I have next to nothing to draw anecdotes from.
As I write this, there’s a deathly quiet here in the central business district. Normally, the pavement outside the Nation Centre is teeming with people — the Nation Centre, if you didn’t know, is a favourite meeting point of many Kenyans, having long replaced Kenya Cinema — it is also a favourite hunting ground for muggers, but that’s a story for another day.
Today, there is no single person idling here. The pavement is deserted, which is surreal because around this time, lunchtime, there’s usually a throng of people with lots of activity going on. It is also deathly quiet. And for the first time, cars outnumber people.
Towards the various matatu termini, however, the number of people increases, and it is obvious that this is a normal working day for hawkers, even though there are fewer people inspecting or buying their goods.
The government has encouraged us to remain indoors because this is the only sure way that we will contain this virus, but how will these hawkers earn their daily bread if they don’t get up like they do every morning, board a matatu and go to the CBD or wherever else they earn their keep? What about that casual worker at a mjengo who earns a daily wage? The jua kali artisan — what about him? What will these Kenyans and their families eat?
Where will they get the money to pay rent? Simply put, staying indoors is not an option for these Kenyans, the majority of whom live from hand to mouth. If they don’t work, they will not eat.
Unless the government comes up with practical measures to address these yawning facts, the number of Kenyans infected by coronavirus will keep going up.
The glaring fact is that not everyone can afford to work from home because work is out there.
The writer is Editor, Society & Magazines, Daily Nation; ; @cnjerius